India successfully test-fired a long-range ballistic missile on Thursday capable of carrying a nuclear warhead as far as Shanghai. The event deserves more scrutiny than it's received, though not for the reasons offered by the theologians of parchment arms control
The test marks a significant advance in global missile proliferation, which surely vindicates those in the U.S. who have pushed antimissile defenses. India's Agni 5—Agni is the Hindu god of fire—is capable of carrying MIRVed, or multiple, independently targetable, warheads. The missile also puts India closer to being able to develop antisatellite weapons, and the Agni 5 appears to be launchable from mobile platforms. All of this makes the missile a fearsome deterrent against foreign attack.It's clear that India will eventually be able to turn the Agni 5 into an intercontinental missile capable of reaching Europe and the U.S. This is a harbinger of missile proliferation to come, and it shows that the dominance that the U.S. and Russia have long enjoyed in missile technology and the high ground of space will soon be challenged. The launch also underscores the folly of arms-control treaties in controlling proliferation. India has never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty even as it has become a formidable nuclear power. The world's missile technology control regime has forced India to develop its own launch and guidance technology, though we also suspect it's received help on the sly from Russia and others.
The point is that a continental power like India is going to pursue weaponry that it believes to be in its own security interests, regardless of the wishful treaties of Western diplomats. That's especially true given China's claims to Indian territory and Beijing's bullying of its neighbors.
Yet it's also worth noting that few people laid awake Thursday night worrying about this new Indian missile. A State Department spokesman called on "all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding nuclear capabilities" but added that "India has a solid nonproliferation record."
The Chinese Foreign Ministry noted that "India and China are not rivals but cooperative partners," though China is one presumptive target of the Indian missile. Pakistan, India's traditional rival whose government was advised in advance of the launch, had no immediate official response at all.
This restrained reaction is strikingly different from the global alarm over North Korea's recent failed ballistic-missile launch, to say nothing of the anxiety provoked by Iranian missile tests and nuclear program. The difference is that no one in the West believes that India poses an aggressive military threat. India is a robust democracy whose nuclear weapons are intended as a deterrent, and not even hawks in the People's Liberation Army can credibly argue that Delhi would contemplate a nuclear first strike.
The crucial nonproliferation point is that the threat is less from the weapons than from the kind of regime that holds them. The arms control evangelists, including many in the Obama Administration, believe that the spread of weaponry is its own threat, whether the finger on the button belongs to David Cameron, Kim Jong Eun or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But the real threat is that weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them will be acquired by tyrants who lack any domestic restraints and might well use them to dominate or destroy their neighbors. The world will be a safer place if fewer nations have nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. But the danger grows exponentially when those weapons are in the hands of a Hitler, Brezhnev or Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
The Indian launch might also cause some soul-searching in Beijing. Chinese officials sometimes sound as if their bullying regional policy will eventually have all of the Asia-Pacific region under their sway. But in practice the result has been the opposite, driving Japan, the Philippines, even Vietnam and Burma closer to the U.S. as a countervailing regional power. India's missile launch is another sign that its neighbors feel the need to deter any Chinese aggression.
As for the U.S., India's test underscores the need for robust investment in missile and satellite defenses with deployments before genuine threats arrive. It also shows the need to redouble the efforts to quarantine and deny WMD to rogue states, in contrast to treaties that provide an illusion of nonproliferation.
Unkil showing its hidden takleef